Tips: Transitioning From Agency to Contract

I figured if I’m encouraging all those new PR Recession-istas to look into consulting, it’s only fair if I share some things I learned during my transition from 7 years at high-tech PR firms to flying solo. A lot of it was fun, some, not so much.

1. Take a serious look at what you excel at and then consider what areas you want to grow. This will help you hone the type of consulting you should focus on. At least at first. I know the breadth of PR I began to do seriously expanded the more experience freelancing.

2. Figure out what you’re going to need. It’s really not that much. A laptop and an Internet connection are the most crucial things. The one other re-occurring monthly expense that’s necessary (aside from healthcare) is access to a media database.

Unfortunately, Vocus and Cision don’t make it easy for this segment of the professional PR market, despite it’s growing size. Pricing models are geared toward agencies with bigger budgets. Thankfully, you can usually find someone to share a login with on the down low and chip in on the monthly breakout. I found this:

Cyrus, I just got an updated quote from Cision that was a heck of a lot closer to $4900 and that was without a whole lot of bells and whistles…without international (which drove it up well over $5K) and with single platform, no clip, etc. Worse, they are offering the worst “payment plan” of any company out there; basically they are willing to let you spread the payments over 90 days but by auto-debit or pre-set charge to a credit card. With all of the options out there and with a lot of PR firms leaving Bacons/Cision becuaes of their customer service issues, I’m surprised they haven’t become a bit more competitive.

I don’t know about you but I smell opportunity here. Why is no one catering to the freelancers? It’s not like they don’t have money to spend but just not 5k and especially when starting out. And with our social web, do we even need to pay it anymore? I think HARO is going to do big things. It’s about helping both sides in an altruistic way. He doesn’t charge for it, unlike Profnet. If Vocus and Cision don’t pay closer attention to their customer needs, the customers will create something that does. Just sayin’.

3. I didn’t file for a DBA. It’s not necessary. It’s about what kind of insurance you want for yourself. So it’s more of a personal decision I think and partially depends on how long you want to contract for. That’s the great thing. You have control over your schedule. Do short projects while looking for something else or give a good year and see how you like it.

4. If you’ve logged some hours in the agency world especially, get out that rolodex. Have past clients you had a great relationship with? Let them know you’re for hire. You might be surprised how quick leads start coming in.

5. Trust your instincts. If you have any reservations about taking a project on, don’t do it. I’ve heard time and again of freelancers who went against their better judgment and the client turned into a nightmare. It’s not worth your time or the stress it will cause you. Better to find what feels right so you can be excited about what you’re doing.

6. I got a basic contract from another freelancer. There are plenty of lawyer friends around who will give it the once over but it’s pretty standard. 30-day notice for either party; amount of hours within the set retainer; schedule of services, etc.

7. Don’t feel limited by geography. While living in NY I received a referral from an old co-worker for a start-up in LA. “You’re FROM California, so what’s the difference?” He said. I followed-up on the lead and hit it off immediately with the CEO. He completely vibbed with my vision of how I wanted to do PR and thought it was just what his company needed. I worked with them for 4 months before we even met. We did video chat’s, IM’s and regular phone calls after our first meeting to keep up the familiarity. Later I moved to LA and continued working half-time at their office. Fun experience. I learned a lot.

8. Make sure your visions vibe. There is an imbalance between the PR professional’s vision of PR and the start-ups vision of why you have PR. Younger executives tend to be savvier about PR’s broader influence, especially when it comes to social web communications. Which is good, because these guys are the ones that are looking for people like you. You need to have agreements on what the goals are and have equally matched expectations. And make it very clear what you need from the team you’ll be working with, which is usually access multiple formats of information. The engineers at the start-up in number 7 used to get really sketched out when I’d ask to see reports and various things. They assumed because I am PR, it meant I wanted to release it to the press. They didn’t trust me nor understand how the information was helpful to me.

After I left the company the former lead engineer (who later went on to start a company himself) came up to me at an event and said, “now I get it.” It was an awesome moment. To have an engineer understanding the power of PR and its place in the business cycle is good for our industry.

9. Write-offs are awesome. It’s truly a great benefit to contracting. That and being able to work from home or leave the state and work remote. As long as you’re getting your stuff handled. It’s an excellent sense of freedom. My favorite was meeting my personal trainer at 9 a.m. twice a week. Those days are long gone now.

10. Just get out there and do it. You’ve collected a lot of knowledge your year’s working at an agency. Put it to use and help companies achieve success and watch your career take you to a place it never would have if you’d stayed tied to that cube, eating lunch at your desk every day.

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